A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Fletchers

Food

One of the things we love about travel is eating local traditional food. Trying sometimes new foods and sometimes just the more authentic version. We came home from Thailand making Thai green curry and from Malaysia making noodles and satay sauces. We returned from Greece eating Greek yogurt over fruit with walnuts and honey drizzle; savory crepes; spanikopitas; and tzatziki. Italy inspired us to keep pasta and pizza simple. Cuba set us on tropical fruit for breakfast and rice with black beans. Most countries we visit inspire me to recreate some of their food in my own kitchen on a regular basis.

Well, I have to say, I had only two meals I actually enjoyed in Los Angeles which was a seafood gumbo and salad on Santa Monica Pier and 4 different styles of shrimp at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, also on Santa Monica Pier. Our usual experience in all countries including New Zealand, is don't eat at the convenient beach front spot where all the tourists go. They generally have high prices, poor service, and crap food. They aren't aiming for repeat business. However, there the USA bucked the trend. My previous experience in the States was that they do an OK salad which topped with a decadent blue cheese dressing became a great salad, but otherwise the food was pretty darn average. That was my experience this time too, with the surprising exception of Santa Monica Pier. So I was looking forward to some good criolla (local) food when we got to Puerto Rico.

Breakfasts:
Now this I don't understand. On a tropical Caribbean island where fruit ( and vegetables) grow like weeds, we got eggs, ham, bacon, and a variety of bread options. No fruit. Not until our very last day when the fruit spread was incredible!!! And filter coffee. Yes filter coffee. Now I expected and accepted filter coffee in the USA because most Americans seem content with that, but those that know me, know I get pretty darn crabby without my espresso. Unfortunately (for Puerto Rico and for a coffee lover), Puerto Rico's economy is largely dependent on tourism from the USA, which means filter coffee is acceptable). So each day we set off in search of the elusive espresso machine. In New Zealand I have a "long black", which is meaningless anywhere else in the world. Americans have an "americano" which is a watered down version equivalent to a filtered coffee. The fun I've had throughout the world asking for a double espresso with a little extra hot water in all sorts of languages....... In Puerto Rico it tended to just be what we would call a "short black", a very small double espresso. It did the trick. But that and Sean's cafe con leche ( coffee with milk -requiring stipulation that the coffee was to be espresso not filter) set us back anything up to $10US and a good hour or two tracking it down.

Lunch:
Pretty much any meat with bread was available. Salad with it was not a given. Not very inspiring really.

Dinner:
Here the fun begins. Mofongo is the typical criolla. It's basically mashed banana, but a non sweet banana called plantain, stuffed with meat of some sort. Usually with a tomato and onion sauce which was quite tasty. It was OK. I wouldn't be able to make it at home due to lack of plantain but I'm not sure I was that inspired anyway. We had a couple of lovely meals, one at the first restaraunt at Esperanza on Vieques island called Bananas. The best mussels I've tasted, in a gorgeous spicy sauce, and mahimahi (fish) in a tropical mango sauce. I caved on the last night and ordered ceviche at a Peruvian place, because we always try to eat local but I just hadn't found any criolla really good enough and I did so love Peruvian food. Ceviche is a raw fish/seafood soup/salad dish. It's great when done well.

All in all, on the food front, a disappointing trip. I've not come home with any recipe inspiration at all. I did ask for the mussel sauce recipe but they said if they told me I wouldn't be allowed off the island........ It was tempting......

And I must state....... Real cheese back in the air New Zealand koru lounge was a real treat after 2 weeks of processed melted cheese on everything!

Posted by Fletchers 19:55 Comments (0)

Puerto Rico

sunny 28 °C

Well our adventure continues but this time "sin ninos".
Puerto Rico was Spanish owned until they decided they wanted independence from Spain. As I understand it they waged war against the Spanish and were losing terribly until the Americans moved in to help the Puerto Ricans and the Spanish lost (as part of the Spanish American war). The problem with this is that they were now pretty much owned by the USA instead.
Just over a year ago we travelled to Cuba which was cut off from the USA completely with no trade or tourism between the two allowed. We saw the devastation this caused to Cuba's economy, but we admired their tenacity and strength in overcoming this and we loved the absence of commercial US - no fast food chains, etc.
Puerto Rico is a Spanish colonised Caribbean island, just like Cuba. They were both major producers of sugar, rum and cigars. They both had huge slave labour force in the 17th and 18th centuries brought over from Africa, influencing both islands' culture, music and food. They have similar beautiful landscape and beaches with tropical fruit. Yet the influence of the USA has shaped a very different country with a very different economy to their neighbour. Interestingly Fidel Castro, the Cuban President took over the Bicardi factory in Cuba during the revolution, and renamed it Havana Club. Bicardi then set up in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has the US dollar as it's currency. It has all the usual commerce and industry you expect of the USA (fast food chains included), and like the USA, no social security or free health care. If you have work and insurance you manage fine, but if you lose your job, you can end up on the streets. And sadly there are many who are so unlucky, but not nearly as many as I saw in Los Angeles on my morning jogs, where every park bench, every underpass, and many street corners were decorated with the shopping trolleys the homeless carry their wordly possessions around with them.
Whilst we were constantly harassed in Cuba for money, (where there are very few homeless as the state provides food and housing), here we are asked for money only a few times a day by homeless people. Buildings are maintained, the history and culture of the place is not diluted by the desperation as it is in Cuba. It feels wealthier despite the abject poverty of the few. The inequality of wealth is clear but in general the people seem better off for being in the USA's back pocket.
Despite most people speaking English very well, the primary language is still Spanish, salsa and reggaeton music blares from restaurants, bars and cars and creole food is available at most eateries, bar the American fast food chains.
So far Puerto Rico has charmed us. It had been easy and relaxed. Oh and the weather stunning. But we are surrounded by northern Americans and I'm starting to roll my 'R's!!!

Posted by Fletchers 16:22 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (1)

Its Good to be Home

Update by Sean & Rachel

The 14 hour time difference might be hard to cope with but boy is it good to be home!

Just to bring you up to speed we spent our final day in Santiago, Chile with our friends Anibal and Carmen and their son Vincent at the house of their friends Diego and Pilar and their three kids. The warmth, good company and marvelous location made it a very memorable last day of our 7 week trip to South America.

Without doubt having friends to connect with in Chile and Ecuador made this family adventure far richer and more rewarding than our previous trips to Europe and Asia. We are extremely grateful to, and humbled by, the hospitality extended to us by our Chilean friends and new Ecuadorian friends. They have a home in Wellington, New Zealand should/when they choose to travel this part of the world.

Our Chilean friends Anibal, Carmen* and son Vincent & friends

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  • (Sean met Carmen in Wellington, NZ last year when she asked him for directions!)

Our new* Ecuadorian friends Valeria, Jose and sons Gael & Joaquin

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  • (we met them for the first time in Ecuador)

We certainly will miss the excitement of experiencing new things everyday....

So to keep us grounded here's our list of the top things we noticed on our return, and love about NZ:

1. sweet tasting and smelling water which you can safely drink from the tap!
2. clean air
3. free public toilets which are clean, have soap, paper, actually flush... and you can flush the paper down the toilet
4. veges which are crunchy and taste fresh
5. no touts, hasslers, beggars or hagglers (well ok the odd one in Lambton Quay but they aren't as in your face as they are in Cuba).
6. flat whites with cows milk from a bottle!
7. the friendliest customs officials ever
8. ordering coffees without having to practice your head first and being confident you know what you are going to get
9. Our bed!

And what we will miss about traveling :
1. waking up each morning and bouncing out of bed (despite the crick in the neck from the bad bed) excited about what the day might hold - the unknown.
2. spending each day together as a family, sharing the excitement, watching the children soak up the experiences
3. listening to the children speaking Spanish and popping out with sentences we never knew they knew
4. eating out at cafes/restaurants for every meal so not having to do dishes! (although it has been nice to cook again too)
5. eating lobster for lunch and dinner each day in Cuba - we may never be able to afford to eat it anywhere else!
6. being warm

Now back to the reality of "we owe, we owe, its off to work we go" (insert Snow White & Seven Dwarfs tune..."hi ho, hi ho, its off to work...)..Rachel is back to work and Sean is now looking for work!

travel safe, be well,
Sean & Rachel Fletcher

Posted by Fletchers 23:57 Comments (1)

Useful Things to Pack & Do Before You Depart

Especially when travelling with kids...

Here's a list of a few things which I am really glad we packed... hopefully you will find this useful too... some we bought along the way because we discovered we really needed them....

- hard lollies for sucking on the planes, greatly reduces chance of ear pain ! (only TACA and Air New Zealand offered lollies on their flights, good on them)
- small bottles of alcohol hand sanitiser
- kids games/maths/spelling programs on your cell phone, ipod (take SIM out while overseas otherwise it will cost you a small fortune!) or tablet, small laptop, ipad whatever you have... a sanity saver for all that waiting in airports, bus terminals...
- kids audio books (thanks Stephen C!)
- books, we took heaps of e-books (epub format)... the only practical way to get a lot of books without the bulk
- hydro-cortisone ointment (for insect bites, the only stuff which gave our poor daughter relief from the nasty red ants of Vinales, Cuba)
- antihistamine cream and pills (again for bites)
- sting pads (esp. for jelly fish)
- foot cream to prevent getting cracked heals (this is Really Important as we found that our kids feet got dry really fast in the open footwear. If you get a cracked heal they don't want to walk.... The Keen and Teva footware survived and was comfortable in the heat)
- lots of snap lock bags, large and small (to contain exploding deoderant, smells, shampoo, dirty clothes etc...)
- pawpaw ointment (for scrapes, burns)
- ear plugs (especially for Cuba and Quito...that said, dogs which bark nearly all night long were an issue in a lot of places we traveled to)
- nasal decongestant for use on planes (to avoid ear pain should someone have a cold)
- small packets of tissues and wet-wipes (for toilets...few supply paper, but also for faces, hands and colds)
- sun block & repellent
- patience and humour!

Some things (which we brought) which are best left behind:

- heavy duty rain jackets (never used as it was just too damn hot in the places which it rained and in the other places it Never rains)
- sun hats (just too hot to wear them, just use sun block and keep reapplying it... we found that the sun burns faster in NZ)
- salsa shoes (Cubans salsa in whatever they are wearing, jandels, sneakers...)

Preparation wise I'm really glad that we did the following, hence recommend them to you:

- take Spanish Lessons... in our experience the better our Espanol became the more fun we had and the better able we were to negotiate out of scams, attempt to get service, find out what was going on in each country and most importantly, connect with the locals!

- get vaccinated... amidst all the other vaccines our doctor recommended the Cholera vaccine (even though none of the countries on our list had Cholera) for the 60% protection it gave against travelers diarrhoea. This may very well be the reason why our kids did not get sick (our daughter is a thumb sucker) perhaps that and the alcohol hand cleanser.

safe travels, have fun!
Sean

Posted by Fletchers 23:54 Comments (1)

Kids Pics Random

Update by Sean.

Well what can I say it was slow work individually uploading photos while we were overseas, so here is a bit of a catchup!

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Posted by Fletchers 16:37 Comments (0)

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